MANON may well be Clouzot's misanthropic riposte to the terrible injustice he suffered in post-war France when he was accused of making a "collaborationist" film, LE CORBEAU, and subsequently barred from working in the French film industry for five years as punishment. (LE CORBEAU is in fact the only film that I know of made during the Pétain era that presented any sort of subversive threat to that collaborationist regime; one which, let it not be forgotten, was officially recognised by the USA, the Soviet Union, and The Vatican). It is as if Clouzot wanted to show both the depths to which humans will sometimes sink in order to pursue their own personal well-being, (collaborating with evil), as well as the greater moral outrage of war and its aftermath, which never somehow seems to eclipse or exceed society's trivial and self-righteous moral preoccupation with human sexuality. It is a film about survival in a society which has become brutalised and desensitised by war, where racketeers, gangsters and prostitutes resort to any means or method as they ruthlessly take the measure of the hypocrisy of the dominant ideology and act in kind. Totally apolitical, feckless and bereft of any human sympathy for anyone but themselves, they become a bleak and grotesque underclass that has taken "the rules of the game" to its logical, hideous, and heartless conclusion. Manon, the central character, is not so much slut turned prostitute, as prostitute turned slut. Dehumanised by the experience of the war and the cruel retribution that subsequently scape-goated women whose only "crime" of collaboration was to have sex with German soldiers whom their own government had described as "guests", (and which are now re-written into history as "occupiers"), she sees sex as a means to an end; her only available weapon in her own personal war of survival in a cruel and cynical world. But, although to all intents and purposes she has long since convinced herself that she has consciously extinguished any kind or compassionate part of her nature, or human fellow-feeling she might once have had, it returns with an ironic and cruel vengeance when she meets someone whom she really loves. Like Lulu in PANDORA'S BOX, the first and only time she shows a genuine acte-gratuite of human kindness, her fate becomes sealed, and this "weakness" becomes the very means and vehicle by which she will meet her downfall. As a heartless tart she can make it, but as a vulnerable loving human, she is doomed. When she and her lover flee as illegal immigrants to try and find happiness in Palestine, she is shot in the desert by marauding Arabs, and dies in the arms of her lover; one of cinema's most powerful and memorable scenes in which he buries her corpse in the sand, but cannot bring himself to finally cover her face. Originally banned in the UK but passed with cuts by the London Council, (even then, they ordered no less than 10 cuts in the film's trailer!!), it has, as a result, become a forgotten and lost film, and if remembered at all, (as is so often the case in these matters), it is for the "controversy" it caused when it was new, despite the fact that it was awarded The Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. A gesture which, I suspect, also reflected the jury's contempt for the post-war injustice meted out to Clouzot over LE CORBEAU. Clouzot was one of the world's most gifted directors, and all his films merit not just one, but several viewings, and MANON is one of his very best.
Crime / Drama
Crime / Drama
An adaptation of Abbe Prevost's classic French novel 'Manon Lescaut', updated to post-World War II France, in which a former French Resistance activist rescues Manon from villagers who want...
June 15, 2020